It doesn't matter how fast you make your Corvette; if you can't bring it to a stop, the result is a car that is unbalanced, and likely unsafe. Countless performance cars, Corvettes included, have been wrecked and totaled simply because they're so fast that the driver doesn't leave enough distance for braking, resulting in blunt-force trauma to the car, if not the occupants. This problem is compounded by the addition of a more powerful engine to the car, and since that's just what we plan to do to Project Triple-Ex, we felt the brakes needed some attention earlier in this build, rather than later.
Any time you modify your car's systems, it pays to do a little research prior to purchasing the parts. Since our Stingray was originally equipped with disc brakes on all four corners, our choices were pretty basic. We could upgrade our brakes with new replacement components, resulting in a car with braking performance similar to when it was new, or we could upgrade to better, aftermarket performance parts for decreased braking distances. Since we're not known for leaving any of our cars stock for long, we of course chose the latter.
There are many options when it comes to purchasing aftermarket brakes for a C3 Stingray Corvette, so our first step was to figure out which brake components would be right for our car. While we are building this car for performance, we won't be modifying the body with wild fender flares to accommodate enormous tires, so our tire size will be limited to 255/50-17s out back and 245/45-17s up front. Since brakes that will outperform the tires are considered overkill, adding unnecessary weight to the vehicle, our wheel and tire choice limited our choices to reasonably sized, and more reasonably priced, braking systems.
We had already replaced our factory 15-inch Rally wheels and non-performance tires with a set of bolt-on, aluminum, 17-inch, ZR-1-inspired units from SLP, significantly lowering our car's unsprung weight and also offering us a larger diameter platform for better performance tires. Though the SSBC components would fit under our factory 15-inch steel wheels, we felt the look and performance of the SLP wheels more fit the theme of our project car.
To further improve our car's stopping (not to mention handling) performance we chose Nitto's Invo tires for our Stingray, which we've found to be great all-around performance tires. The Nitto Invos grip well, shed water adequately if we drive in the rain, offer reasonable tread-wear life, and ride comfortably and quietly. These tires are also Z-rated for sustained high speeds, in case we get the urge for a top-end blast on the local freeway or racetrack.
So with our tires and wheels picked, we needed brakes that would adequately handle repeatedly stopping our car without fading, but wouldn't be overkill for our limited tire size. Our research led us to SSBC's Big-Bite drilled and slotted rotors, aluminum four-piston calipers, and billet aluminum master cylinder for our Corvette. These components are significantly lighter than the factory brakes, offer better hydraulic proportioning, and will shed heat far more quickly due to the drilled, slotted, and vented rotors and the aluminum construction of the calipers. Included with the SSBC brake kit were metallic race pads-which are a little noisy but worth it in terms of performance-and new steel-braided flexible brake lines for the front and rear.
One of the best features of the SSBC brakes for the C3 is that they basically bolt right into place once the factory brakes are removed. It's actually more difficult to remove the old brakes due to the front rotors being riveted to the hub, requiring that significant time be spent drilling the heads off the rivets. Once the old brakes were off, we installed our new brakes, lines, and master cylinder, checked rotor run-out, and bled the entire system in about half a day. After performing the necessary break-in procedure for the pads (no pun intended), which involves a series of heat cycles to seat the pads to the rotors, we let the car cool down for a while and took it out for testing.
Using cones, the car's speedometer, and a tape measure, we had already checked the braking performance of the (stock) car in a series of 60-to-0 braking tests. Our best stop came on the second attempt, netting a distance of 136 feet. After the third stop, the brakes started to fade, and subsequent braking distances increased to more than 140 feet. Though not bad numbers, we're certain the tires were inhibiting braking performance, as the rears tended to lock before we felt we were achieving maximum braking with the fronts. We also weren't sure about the calibration of our speedometer (we actually felt as if we were going a little faster than 60 mph), but since we were using the same uncorrected speedometer for our testing after installing the new brakes, we feel our results are valid.
After installing the SSBC braking components, SLP wheels, and Nitto tires, our braking distances were dramatically reduced, and brake fade was far less than with the factory brakes. Additionally, the proportioning of the brake system was more in balance, and the rear tires seemed to be less prone to lock up, allowing both the rear and front brakes to perform further work to stop the car. While the tires were definitely providing more grip, the brakes supplied far more bite, decelerating the car quickly and leaving us impressed with the stopping performance.
On our first test stop, the Stingray (actually the driver) momentarily locked the brakes initially, resulting in a 60-0 distance of 128 feet. The next three attempts were clean, with decreased distances as the metallic pads built some heat, and our best attempt was a stopping distance of 116 feet from 60 mph. We continued testing some eight or nine times (we lost track) until we noticed an increase in distance, indicating our components were getting heat soaked. But even then our C3 had no problem stopping in less than 120 feet. So while the two-odd car lengths in decreased stopping distance will help keep us from hitting the back of another motorist, the reduction in brake fade will allow continued aggressive driving such as autocross or road racing.
Overall, we found the SSBC components to be high-quality, and easy to install with clear and concise instructions. We were impressed not only with the fit and finish of the brake parts, but with the look of the rotors, calipers, and master cylinder as well. What particularly impressed us, however, was the dramatic improvement in stopping distance, making our car safer and more fun to drive.